Glass interviews British actor Lily Newmark

Seriously spellbound – Glass talks to actor Lily Newmark about 21st century activism, championing female filmmakers, and her role in Netflix fantasy epic Cursed


LILY Newmark is one of the stars of Cursed, the latest Big Budget Netflix On-Demand Fantasy Epic™. She plays Pym, a fictional character from a fictional world. Newmark is from south London. Simple, right? So quite why I went into our scheduled call expecting not to talk with Newmark but with Pym – a fictional character from a Netflix adaptation of a graphic novel based on the legend of King Arthur (that’s a full three layers of fiction) – is beyond me.

I can only blame the nature of modern TV consumption, where shows are binged so intensely that, at some point, the binge-ee is prone to forgetting where the Fantasy Epic™ ends and south London begins.

Lily Newmark. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz

Because of this, Newmark’s distinct un-Pym-ness took some adjusting to. So, in order to help me connect the dots, I asked the real-life, 26-year-old south Londoner to describe Pym.  “Well … Pym is an awkward, naïve character who becomes incredibly inarticulate and anxious when she’s put in unfamiliar situations,” she tells me. “I suppose she becomes the comic-relief in a story which, otherwise, tends to be quite dark.”

lily newmark interview
Lily Newmark. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz

Without needing to vocalise it, Lily Newmark seems to be none of the above. She’s the opposite of awkward, naïve, inarticulate and anxious, and, while I have no doubt she’s splendid comic relief in the company of friends, today, on the phone with a stranger, she’s serious.

Lily Newmark. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz

I think I understand why. There once was a time when signing on for a fantasy show meant there would be light-hearted media chats about “what you would name your pet dragon?” Not anymore. Cursed still has beheadings, burnings, stake-wielding zealots and showers of blood where rain should be (they worked hard for that 15 rating), but really, it’s reflective of a fantasy genre that, as it’s grown, has become oddly contemporary. Thus, it warrants serious debate, especially given that sections of fantasy fan culture remain infamously traditionalist and would rather revel in the draconian than imbue the medieval world with modern, progressive ideals.

Lily Newmark. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz

For her part, Newmark describes Cursed as “a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the female perspective, with a story centred around a female-lead hierarchy.” The Lady of the Lake, Nimue (Katherine Langford), is the protagonist, King Arthur actor Devon Terrell is best known for portraying a young Barack Obama, and the wizard Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård) enters the series a drunken, bumbling charlatan. The latter may not be pearl-clutchingly modern, but it subverts Arthurian lore all the same.

“As far as I’m aware it’s just in the TV adaption – I don’t think the graphic novel specifies the colour of anyone’s skin … [Regardless], Devon, who plays Arthur, is fantastic. He’s one of my best friends and I’m really, really glad that he’s playing Arthur.”

Still, Newmark appreciates untraditional casting choices need to be made for the right reasons. “I think, firstly, it’s important that it’s not done in any sort of token way – tokenism comes in to play a lot with casting. Although Cursed is fantasy it reflects a lot of aspects of our world: themes of obliteration of the natural world … people being segregated because of their communities and cultures … so why, given that we live in such a diverse world, wouldn’t we also have a diverse cast?”

Lily Newmark. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz

And that applies to the team behind the camera, too, with Cursed pilot-directed and executive-produced by Zetna Fuentes, one of television’s most prolific female directors. “I was really excited to meet Zetna; she’s been so wonderful. I think I am drawn to working with women filmmakers, or perhaps I’m just lucky that I’ve come across so many in my short time acting.

“But, equally …,” she catches herself, “although I certainly champion female filmmakers, I don’t just work with anyone because of their gender. I think ultimately the workplace environment depends on the personality [of those in charge] more than anything else.”

Previous roles in Pin Cushion (2017), Dagenham (2018), Sex Education (2019) and Misbehaviour (2020) have all been headed by women directors, and Newmark reveals, “I’ve certainly worked on an independent film set (with male directors) where it’s felt like walking into a frat house and I haven’t been taken seriously.”

Lily Newmark. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz

And isn’t that the baseline in work and in life, to be taken seriously? Yet, it’s something Newmark seems to battle with off screen, too. The pressure to prove one’s seriousness on all things serious is informed by a very actor-specific struggle to be taken seriously. “I have been going to the BLM protests and trying to stay on top of online activism in terms of signing petitions and sharing information. It’s a tricky balance … I hugely want to show my support and to learn without it being egocentric. It’s not virtue signalling. It’s not performative. All I can do is try my hardest to stay authentic.”

People are a tough crowd, but Newmark seems to have made her peace with that. “I’ve always been drawn to animals, anyway.”



Lily Newmark. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz

lily newmark interview

Lily Newmark. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz

by Charlie Navin-Holder



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